Holiday Break

NJIT has started the holiday break and offices will be closed until January 2.

Brother Tim and I packed up our holiday goodies, stashed the coffee and goodies from the eyes of curious people and mice, compiled code and finished web pages and shut off the monitors.

Watch out for the snow and those flu germs and enjoy the holidays. Be back in 2007.


Student Engagement

The latest National Survey of Student Engagement (AKA "Nessie" from NSSE) surveyed 260,000 freshman and seniors at 523 four-year colleges and universities.

NSSE tries to measure "engagement" (how involved students are in academics and campus activities) to assess quality rather than the criteria found in popular rankings like those of U.S. News & World Report.

Overall, the survey reports that students who participate in collaborative learning and educational activities outside the classroom and who interact more with faculty members get better grades, are more satisfied with their education, and are more likely to remain in college.

But the gains from those same engagements are even greater for students from underrepresented racial/ethnic backgrounds, or who come to college less prepared than their peers.

Some interesting results:

  • student engagement had a "compensatory effect" on grades and students' likelihood of returning for a second year of college
  • activities such as collaborating with peers on projects inside and outside the classroom helped students overcome previous educational disadvantages
  • nontraditional students (adult and distance learners) engaged as often in rewarding educational activities as did traditional-aged students taking classes on the campus
  • DL students reported higher levels of academic challenge and greater developmental gains than their campus-based peers did.
  • DL students were less likely to participate in group projects than their traditional peers were, but spent a comparable amount of time writing papers and preparing for class
  • DL students reported interacting with faculty members about as much as trad students - primarily using online forums
  • 63% of DL were first generation, compared with 42 percent of other students
  • For those of you interested, as I am, in andragogy, the survey found that adult students were more engaged in classroom activities, more likely to come to class prepared, ask questions in class, and rewrite papers before submitting them than their younger counterparts
  • nine out of 10 students in both the F2F & DL populations rate their college experiences as "good" or "excellent."
  • students on average spend 14 hours a week preparing for class - however, faculty reported that they felt 24-30 hours was appropriate (entering freshman reported expecting to spend 16-20 hours per week
  • Some gender differences among first-year students: women spent more time than men preparing for class and were more likely to write multiple drafts of an assignment before submitting it
  • women were less likely than men to interact with faculty members outside of class
  • women used e-mail more frequently to communicate with an instructor and were more likely to perform community service or volunteer work
  • men were more likely to: tutor or teach other students
  • discuss ideas from assigned readings with faculty members outside of class
  • work outside class with classmates
Read the full 2006 reports at

Rate That Professor

My guess is that most professors are not happy with RateMyProfessors, the web site that lets students evaluate their instructors.

Yeah, a lot of the "evaluations" are just gripes and though some might be legitimate and from legitimate students, some could be from random visitors posing as students, perhaps even from rival instructors. Campus intrigue!

Of course, sociologists are on the case.

Associate sociology and social work professors Dr. Beth L. Davison and Dr. Jammie L. Price at Appalachian State studied the web site and its purpose, and published their findings in a report titled "How Do We Rate? An Evaluation of Online Student Evaluations."

"We are not against the concept," Davison said. "We actually like the concept, but would like to see the university create their own Web site."

"There is so much potential for a university-run Web site," Price said. "There appears to be a great demand for the information from students."

Want some holiday spice? Davison says that because the site asks about instructors' appearances, it contributes to an unhealthy sexualizing of the professorial environment.

RateMyProfessor's president, Patrick Nagle, said that camera phones in the classroom have a new meaning when last month they announced their new photo feature. The release asked at top: Is your professor HOT or NOT? The site claims that "every submitted image will be manually reviewed before it goes live.

Is that kid checking a text message or taking my picture?

Pachyderm - Multimedia Authoring Made Easy

I came across Pachyderm at a presentation at Montclair State University by their OIT department a few months ago. It is offered to members of The New Media Consortium.

Pachyderm is an easy-to-use multimedia authoring tool for people who have little or no experience using products like Flash, but want to create Flash-based multimedia products.

It is an online application accessed with a web browser. Users are taken through a number of selection steps using template choices.

You upload your own images, audio clips, and short video clips and assemble them using the templates. You can add text in the program or copy/paste it from existing sources.

The application takes the screens you complete and links them, then allowing you to "publish" and download. The  result in  a Flash-based multimedia package that can have images, sound, animation and text. You can use it on a website, CD as a standalone presentation etc.

It seems that you can also leave presentations (host) on the Pachyderm server and link to them, though I suspect this is for NMC members only.

At NJIT, we have been in contact with developers and will be installing an instance here to experiment with this spring semester.

The project looks very robust. You can follow their work on the Pachyblog.

The Pachyderm 2.0 Project is a partnership led by The New Media Consortium (NMC) and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), and funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The
project brings software development teams and digital library experts from six NMC universities together with counterparts from five major museums to create a new, open source authoring environment for creators of web-based and multimedia learning experiences. The new tool will be based on Pachyderm, the authoring and publishing tool developed by SFMOMA to author its successful series, Making Sense of Modern Art. More information about the project at

is web-based rich-media interactive (flash) presentation authoring and publishing system. It works off of an extensible template system, and plug-ins can be written to tie into multiple external asset databases. Released under Apache lic. v.2.0 - information on obtaining the code at

No More Answers But

Did you ever try using Google Answers at After 4+ years, Google is ending the service. It was an experimental product (there was a cost) where users could get help from researchers who have expertise in online searching.

Described on their site:

Users could post a question to Google Answers and specify how much they were willing to pay for an answer. A Researcher then searched for the information they wanted and posted it to Google Answers. Users were only charged for questions only if and when an answer was posted to it. Other users may have also added comments to provide interesting perspectives to the data but were not paid for their posts. These questions and answers are now publicly viewable on the Google Answers website so other users can share the benefit of the research.

Why did it fail - the cost? That's a possibility. The current NetGen is very big on free. They seem to feel that everything online from web pages, to services, to music should be free. And much of it is, but, as with music, when it's not they will often choose a service that has questionable legality to get what they want.

You can still browse through the questions posted over the last 4 years to Google, so the knowledge is free.

BUT, Google is still doing lots of experimenting that many students/teachers are probably not using. It would be a shame if a student graduated thinking that Google is just a search engine.

I'm assuming you have already tried the established apps that have graduated from Google Lab like Google Earth [one of my favorites - hasn't everyone at least flown over the house to look at it from the air?], Picasa for photos, Book Search, SketchUp for 3D models, or the Translate language tool. If you haven't tried those, start with them.

Here are 3 "beta" things to try at Google.

  1. Google Web Toolkit is an open source Java software development framework that makes writing AJAX applications like Google Maps and Gmail easier for developers who are not pros. OK, that's still pretty geeky.
  2. Patent Search I can see creative teachers finding uses for this beyond the literal search for patents because you are inventing, from elementary school invention sessions (always big with the gifted & talented programs) and inventor study (take a look at Edison's original patent document for the filament for a light bulb), to high school classes needing idea generation, to entrepreneurs needing ideas and reality checks on ideas.
  3. I'm using Google Page Creator in a course this spring free online tool that makes it easy for anyone to create and publish with no HTML or code knowledge or software downloads. You even get an address to use. I did a very quick sample at for a poetry site that I own.